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Barons, Brokers, and Buyers

The Institutions and Cultures of Philippine Sugar

Michael S. Billig

Publication Year: 2003

This innovative ethnography takes a new approach to the study of Philippine sugar. For much of the late colonial history of the Philippines, sugar was its most lucrative export, the biggest employer, and the greatest source of political influence. The so-called "Sugar Barons"--wealthy hacendero planters located mainly in Central Luzon and on the Visayan island of Negros--gained the reputation as kingmakers and became noted for their lavish lifestyles and the quasi-feudal nature of their estates. But Philippine sugar gradually declined into obsolescence; today it is regarded as a "sunset industry" that can barely satisfy domestic demand. While planters continue to think of themselves as wielding considerable power and influence, they are more often seen as vestiges of a bygone era. Michael Billig examines sugar's decline within both the dynamic context of contemporary Philippine society and the global context of the international sugar market. His multi-sited ethnographic analysis focuses mainly on conflicts among the various elite sectors (planters, millers, traders, commercial buyers, politicians) and concludes that the most salient political, economic, and cultural trend in the Philippines today is the decline of rural, agrarian elite power and the rise of urban industrial, commercial, and financial power. His reflections on his relationships with informants in the midst of the politically charged atmosphere that surrounds the sugar industry provide a candid look at the role of the observer who, try as he might to remain impartial, finds himself swept into the vortex of policy debates and power plays.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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Contents / Map

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

As with all works based upon long-term field research, the list of those who merit acknowledgment and thanks is very long—consider this the abridged version. My parents, Adele and Arnie, did not always quite get what it meant to be an anthropologist, but they supported my decision to endeavor I chose. My desire to make my late father proud is never periods in the field with relatively good humor. That neither...

Acronyms and Special Terms

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pp. xi-xiv

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1: Introduction

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pp. 1-31

For more than a century the sugar industry was a dominant force in the economic and political life of the Philippines. Perennially among the top three exports of the country, sugar wielded clout far beyond what one would have predicted based upon the number of people the industry employed. The so-called “Sugar Barons”—wealthy hacendero planters located mainly in Central Luzon and on the Visayan island...

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2: The Legacy of Colonialism and Neo-Colonialism

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pp. 32-59

For most of its history under Spanish rule (1521–1898)1 the Philippines remained an unprofitable “friarocracy,” more important as an entrepôt between China and the Spanish empire than as a producer of commodities in its own right.2 Although some export crops were grown from the earliest period of Spanish colonialism, it was only in the late eighteenth century that commercial products such as...

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3: Production, Financing, CARP, and the U.S. Quota

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pp. 60-100

No matter how one measures productivity, the Philippines is no longer one of the world’s most prolific or efficient producers of cane sugar, and the situation shows little sign of reversing itself. In 1997, sugar was grown on 367,000 hectares in the Philippines, down from a peak of 573,000. Total mill capacity is less than three million tons. Over the last twenty-five years—a period in which...

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4: Property Rights, Quedans, and the SRA

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pp. 101-147

In the aftermath of the EDSA Revolution, a brief historical opportunity existed. The new democratic government of the Philippines could at that moment have taken a strong hand to restructure, reorganize, and (perhaps) revitalize the sugar industry. The method of apportioning property rights could have been revamped, extensive land reform enacted, and an incentive structure to encourage invest-...

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5: The Great Importation War

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pp. 148-200

On 30 June 1992 Fidel Ramos was inaugurated President of the Philippines for a single six-year term. Ramos was the nation’s first Protestant president, a West Point graduate, a former general, and a hero of the EDSA revolution. As Cory Aquino’s Minister of Defense, he remained steadfastly loyal to the reborn, post-Marcos democracy in putting down multiple coup attempts by right-wing officers. He won a plurality of votes over seven other candidates...

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6: Rationalization, Groupism, and the Chinese

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pp. 201-250

In this chapter I will employ a manifold, oblique approach to describing the cultures of Philippine sugar in order to “triangulate” on my subject. Early on in my research I was struck by how frequently three words—“rationalization,” “group,” and “Chinese”—were articulated by individuals in the sugar industry and food-processing industry, and I have come to feel that each of these in its...

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7: Conclusion: The Institutions and Cultures of Philippine Sugar

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pp. 251-274

The Aranetas. The Lopezes. The Elizaldes. Most Filipinos have heard these names and know them to be among the most prominent and wealthy families in the country. But fewer know that these families were once major players in the sugar industry, owning vast tracts of sugar land and some of the oldest centrifugal mills. Today, the Araneta and Elizalde mills, kept operating for sentimental reasons...


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pp. 275-290


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pp. 291-304


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pp. 305-322

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861568
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824825614

Publication Year: 2003

OCLC Number: 647549011
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Barons, Brokers, and Buyers

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Philippines -- Economic conditions.
  • Philippines -- Social conditions.
  • Sugar trade -- Philippines.
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